- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"The best way to find out if an athlete is really well-known is to ask your wife. I asked mine once if she knew who Johnny Unitas was. She had heard the name, that was all. I told her he was a quarterback, and then all that interested her was the name—unite-us, how appropriate that was for a quarterback. That was it.
"On the other hand, the rare athlete who does gain a universal reputation is better known than any movie star or politician. You ever walk down the street with Mickey Mantle or Joe Louis? You can't do it. Everybody knows them. It's phenomenal."
Leaving aside, then, the small coterie of truly recognized sports stars, it may be financially more profitable for the pretty good pro not to be located in New York or Los Angeles or Washington. In most of the other major league cities, the local sports heroes are often the only genuine celebrities. Indeed, in places like Cincinnati, St. Louis, Baltimore and even Philadelphia the local athletes' prime competition for endorsements comes only from sports announcers: Waite Hoyt, Jack Buck, Charlie Eck-man or Pete Retzlaff (before he became general manager of the Eagles). In Detroit the athletes mainly battle against a TV weatherman and a talk-type disc jockey for endorsement loot.
Kansas City is typical of the smaller-city syndrome, where the athlete is the only name in town. This summer four of the Royals, who surely couldn't even get listed alphabetically at Celebrity Service in New York, were used to endorse Smaks, a drive-in hamburger chain. Dick Halstead, who runs the agency that represents Smaks, selected Lou Piniella, Joe Foy, Moe Drabowsky and Eli Rodriguez more or less by employing a form of the Lois wife test on himself. Halstead is no sports fan at all. "Their names were vaguely familiar to me," he says, "so I figured if I knew who they were, then almost everyone would.
"From a believability standpoint, I just don't know how effective it has been but, after all, a hamburger is a hamburger is a hamburger and this is a different way of saying the same thing. Also, in using baseball players for Smaks we emphasized the point that both the team and Smaks are home-town enterprises."
Far from being penalized for not playing in New York, the not-so-super pro athlete benefits from being one of the few stars in a small heaven. Steve Stone-breaker, a former linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, would have been lucky to pick up a hundred bucks plugging a used-car lot in the game program if he played in New York or Los Angeles. But in 1967 in New Orleans, Stonebreaker became the patron saint of all journeymen when he reached his goal of matching his salary with income from endorsements and other outside promotional activities.
Admittedly, Stonebreaker is an exception. He became a local institution when he threw a punch on the field during a game. New Orleans fans had seen their team pushed around enough to delight in this aggressive behavior. But other athletes have found themselves suddenly in demand for advertisements where their unusual shapes, habits or attitudes can be used to advantage. Wilt Chamberlain climbs into a Volkswagen. Phil Linz blows a harmonica. Denny McLain pumps a Hammond organ. Jim Palmer eats pancakes. Ray Graves and his Gators go for Gatorade. All 26 pro football right guards favor a certain deodorant. Lew Burdette extols Mail Pouch chewing tabacco—"Bring back the spitter." Don Drysdale has no grease in his hair. Graham Hill pulls in for some gas. Joe Pepitone reaches for a hair spray. Barbara Jo Rubin keeps her apprentice allowance with Metrecal. And so it goes, as agency imaginations search the locker rooms for the most appropriate images for their products.
Now, for the glory of Bayer Decongestant Capsules, Gump Worsley is discovered sitting in the corner of a Montreal hotel room at 11 p.m. trying desperately, after all these years, to learn overnight to speak good French.
At 41—or more—Worsley may still be the best goalie in hockey. A stumpy, rumpled crew-cut man, he is altogether lovable and would surely have become Yogi Berra if Joe Garagiola had lived down his block. Everybody in Canada knows The Gumper. By contrast, Bayer Decongestant Capsules are going into only their third year on the Canadian market, and they have yet to make the playoffs against league-leading Contac.
Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, the New York agency that handles the Bayer account, decided that the problem was primarily one of image. Gump was selected as the image of La Capsule Bayer. He is, after all, not only a distinctive personality but distinctively Canadian, as well. Besides, not only is hockey very Canadian, the hockey season just happens to coincide with the time of year in which everybody gets colds. Finally, and perhaps most important considering the sensitive ethnic realities of the Dominion, Worsley is of English origin, starring for Les Canadiens, the country's esteemed French team. Worsley is selected, then, not because he is an athlete but because he is probably the only man in the whole country who satisfies all the image requirements. The Gumper will help you put your cold on ice.